Scots have too much power over England

JOHN Prescott may not have much going for him these days - he's even had to give up the perk of a grace-and-favour country house complete with croquet law - but in a Cabinet dominated by Scottish MPs, it can at least be said that the Deputy Prime Minister is a no-nonsense Englishman.

JOHN Prescott may not have much going for him these days - he's even had to give up the perk of a grace-and-favour country house complete with croquet law - but in a Cabinet dominated by Scottish MPs, it can at least be said that the Deputy Prime Minister is a no-nonsense Englishman.

Labour dismisses concerns about the undue influence of Scottish ministers over the affairs of England, saying that MPs are elected to represent the whole of the United Kingdom.

That is of course true, but the problem lies with devolution of Scotland and the granting of some powers to Wales. Why should non-English be given responsibility for departments of state which cover England only?- for example transport which now has its second Scottish MP in charge after Douglas Alexander took over from Alistair Darling last week.

I've no problem with Gordon Brown being Chancellor and Des Browne heading the Ministry of Defence - the departments are both UK-wide. But even though I admire Dr John Reid, it was bit rich putting him in charge of the Department of Health when every decision he took had no impact on his constituents, whose healthcare is the responsibility of the devolved parliament in Edinburgh.

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The Tories antidote to devolution is to create an English Grand Committee comprising only of England's MPs. The Speaker would certify proposed legislation as only affecting England and the assembly would then debate and either pass or defeat the Bills.

The current Government will have none of it, because it relies on the votes of Scottish Labour MPs to push legislation affecting only England through the Commons - a highly undemocratic process.

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A Grand Committee sounds fine in theory, but nothing's easy in practice. If such a system had existed in the 1970s, Prime Minister Jim Callaghan would have been prevented from debating legislation - although he was English, he represented Cardiff South-East.

The Conservatives had two 20th century prime ministers who represented non-English divisions - Sir Andrew Bonar Law (Glasgow Central) and Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and Perthshire West). The Liberals had Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Stirling Burghs) and David Lloyd George (Caernarfon) and Labour had Jim Callaghan.

Labour leaders representing Scottish and Welsh constituencies include three in a row after Callaghan - Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale), Neil Kinnock (Bedwelty) and John Smith (Monklands) while the Liberals and Lib Dem list includes Jo Grimmond (Orkney & Shetland), Dave Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk & Peebles), Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye & Lochaber) and Sir Menzies Campbell (Fife North East).

Imagine the outcry if they had been barred from talking about English legislation - and the constitutional crisis of saying that only MPs representing England could become Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Nevertheless, the current post-devolution way of dealing with England-only Bills is clearly unsustainable - the more than 80% of British people who live in England are in effect a hostage to the 20% who are Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish,

JOHN Prescott gave up Dorneywood because it had become “subject of public controversy and criticism and a matter of concern among some MPs and the Labour Party” - surely the understatement of the year.

THE desperate behind-the-scenes attempts to stop Colchester's £17m Visual Arts Facility being given planning clearance make fascinating reading, including the revelation that the town's Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell wanted to take a delegation of Labour councillors to Whitehall to plead with planning minister Yvette Cooper to force a full public inquiry.

And on May 3, as the Prime Minister was starting a major Cabinet reshuffle, Mr Russell wrote to Tony Blair that “on this issue, the local Labour Party and I are united”. Strangely, he omitted to point out that most Lib Dem councillors in Colchester were fully behind the project.

Other correspondence obtained by the East Anglian Daily Times following a request under the Freedom of Information Act includes letters of objection to Ms Cooper from Labour councillor Richard Bourne, and support from Essex North MP Bernard Jenkin - whose constituency includes large chunks of the borough of Colchester - in which he says the regeneration of the St Botolph's area would benefit the people of Colchester, Essex and the region as a whole.

The wad of letters has been released by the Government Office for the East of England (GO-East) under Whitehall rules that state there is no reason why all lobbying should not be made public once a planning application has been cleared by the Government.

After the borough granted itself planning permission, GO-East called the plans in, as it does in all cases of major council projects. Ms Cooper stood firm despite the barrage of letters sent from the Colchester MP, refusing to comment while civil servants were preparing advice for ministers.

That advice - that intervention in the application was not justified - coincided with the dismantling of John Prescott's Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and its replacement by the Department for Communities and Local Government headed by Ruth Kelly.

Ms Cooper kept her job in the reshuffle. She accepted the view of civil servants that the VAF had been properly granted planning permission and signed off ministerial consent.

Work on the VAF will start within days. In the absence of any better suggestion, perhaps it should be called the Yvette Cooper Centre for Visual Arts in recognition of the major part the Labour government has played in clearing the way - despite opposition from its own councillors in the borough - for a project the arts world regards as exciting and innovative.

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